We all know about the health-giving benefits of antibiotics. They have improved our lives immeasurably by enabling us to kill off bacterial maladies like bladder infections and strep throat. 

Add to this the fact that we live in a world rife with antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizers and the notion that bacteria can also be helpful can cause some confusion.

They can, however, and these health-giving bacteria are called probiotics - a name which originates from the Greek biotikos, meaning “pertaining to life” and pro, from the Latin root for promoting. Hence, probiotics are nurturing bacteria which sustain and enrich our health and our lives 

The History of Probiotics 

The first discovery of probiotics is credited to Russian scientist and Nobel Prize winner Elie Metchnikoff.

In the early 20th century, he connected the dots between a diet rich in probiotic yoghurt and longevity amongst Bulgarians living a life of poverty in a hostile climate. The theory he developed proposed that sour milk increased their immunity and health by providing friendly bacteria to their gut.  

A couple decades later, in 1930, the Japanese microbiologist Minoru Shirota created a drink especially enriched with cultured lactic acid bacteria to aid human health. 

What Are Probiotics?

What exactly are these friendly bacteria? The simplest definition comes from the World Health Organization which defines probiotics as “live microorganisms which when administered in adequate amounts confer a health benefit to the host.”

The human body hosts hundreds of types of bacterial species in the gastrointestinal tract. These microorganisms sustain a healthy microbiome which in turn gives us immunity against disease, helps our energy levels and even protects our psychological well-being. Probiotics added to the diet can do wonders to enrich our health and sustain the all-important balance in the gut. 

Adding probiotics to your diet is easy. They can be found in fermented foods like sauerkraut and miso soup (fermented soybean), live cultured yoghurt and kefir, kombucha tea and snacks like pickles. In case you needed an excuse, dark chocolate can also be of benefit to your gut by acting as an effective carrier for probiotics.

Probiotics can also be obtained through dietary supplements in a variety of forms from capsules and powders to tasty gummies (great for kids!) to refreshing drinks. These easy-to-take additions to our morning routine can help create healthy flora and fauna within our intestines and enable us to reap the many benefits of probiotic use.

The Benefits of Probiotics

The human gut is a hugely complex area of our organism. Its sensitive balance can be knocked askew by many things including stress, a poor diet, lack of sleep, ageing and even environmental toxins. This means that all of us could likely use additional probiotics in our diets.

The result of an unhappy intestine can lead to digestive discomforts like constipation and gas and problems such as irritable bowel syndrome .

However, a poorly balanced intestinal microbiome can also cause or contribute to many other symptoms and health problems that we might not immediately associate with gut health. These ailments include anxious mood and other mood problems, skin conditions. Immunity can also be impacted by a poorly balanced digestive system, leading to increased colds and other seasonal contagions.

If you are unlucky enough to contract a bacterial infection and need to be on antibiotics, consider supplementing with probiotics in order to replenish and rebuild the flora and fauna within your gut. 

Probiotics can help almost everyone with their wide range of benefits stemming from improved digestion. If you are directly experiencing any of the above symptoms or ailments,supplementing probiotics could be very helpful.

Side Effects and Risks

Probiotics are beneficial from the start for many people but for some, there may be mild side effects. Usually, these are tolerable issues such as increased bloating or gas which should ease as the body adjusts to the colonization of the gut by the healthy bacteria. Those with seriously decreased immunity or critical illnesses, however, should take special precautions and be sure to consult with a medical professional.

A rich and varied microbiome in our gut can immensely improve digestive health. This, in turn, leads to increased energy, mental clarity, and a host of other benefits. Probiotics can assist us in making this shift towards better health and, thus, living a richer, fuller life.